How to Write a Book Without Paper

Last month, my first book was published. It was released by an ebook-only publisher, and its story, like the story of writing itself, is linked to technology.

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Ernest Hemingway, when beginning a draft, always reached for a wooden pencil and onionskin typewriter paper. Rudyard Kipling chose “well-ground Indian Ink.” Henry James transitioned mid-career to dictation and a typist, and astute literary critics claim to be able to tell the difference that this technological change made in his prose. Perhaps most famously, Jack Kerouac, when writing his masterpiece On the Road, used a manual typewriter and an improvised scroll that he created by taping pieces of paper together so he could write without interruption.

Writers have a long and storied relationship to the technological tools of their trade. In fact, the story of print media is a story about technology — from pen to print, block to movable type to printing press. And, of course, today we have the personal computer and word processor, two names that are already beginning to seem archaic.

Last month, my first book, Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better, was published. It was released by Bondfire Books, an ebook-only publisher, and its story, like the story of writing itself, is linked to technology.

It all began with an observation and an idea: A lot of movies, music, books, and television shows seem to be emphasizing the virtues of sincerity and authenticity. From there, I began collecting examples. Over the course of three years, I used a mix of applications spread across a variety of devices — Instapaper, Readability, and most significantly, Evernote — as my digital file cabinet, instantly accessible, searchable, and organized.

As the idea for the book germinated, I tested its premise in a number of publications, from my personal blog, to online magazines, and a now-extinct tablet-only magazine. Using a combination of Tumblr and Flavors.me for my personal website, I kept these clippings close and referred to them often as I began to think about drafting a book proposal.

I started my proposal in January 2012. I first turned to iA Writer, for a clean, distraction-free workspace where I could get my ideas onto the digital page quickly and efficiently. As pieces of the proposal came together — chapter summaries, marketing strategies, and eventually a couple sample chapters — I exported my markdown document file to Rich Text Format, which I could then open in Apple’s Pages.

Pages helped me format the text of the document into an attractive, modern presentation using a combination of sans serif typefaces that invoked the persistent now-ness of writing about pop culture. I exported the Pages document to a Microsoft Word compatible file so that my agent could make corrections and comments, and when we completed a few back and forth editing sessions, he saved it as a PDF and emailed it to acquisition editors at a number of publishing houses.

When I received a contract — first digitally and then eventually a physical copy arrived, printed on actual paper and sent via snail mail — I signed it and got to work. My editor’s goal for Not Your Mother’s Morals was a quick turnaround time (a book about pop culture needs to stay relevant, after all). So, we went with a decidedly shorter format the size of a novella or, more accurately, a Kindle Single.

Keeping my proposal nearby, I began drafting in what I think is the most important software for writers since the advent of the word processor: Scrivener. Scrivener is an application that allowed me to organize my burgeoning book into chapters and sub-chapters, and let me keep extensive notes as I went along.

Scrivener, unfortunately, does not have an iOS app, though one is apparently being developed, which means I had to think creatively about a way to compose on the go, using my iPad and Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. For this, I used Scrivener’s “sync with external folder feature” and linked the project to a folder inside my Dropbox. Then, on my iPad, I could use iA Writer’s iOS app to open a file from the Dropbox folder, write wherever I happened to be, and the next time I returned to my desk, click the sync button on Scrivener to update my project.

When my draft was ready, I emailed it to my editor, who also uses Scrivener, and we worked through several rounds of changes. Eventually, we were satisfied with the manuscript, so he sent it out to Bondfire Books’ partner Rosetta Books, who were responsible for formatting the manuscript and exporting it into the various ebook file formats — .kf8 for Kindle, .epub for iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.

This process complete, the book was launched to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore and Kobo store on January 8. I used Tumblr to set up a book site and embedded a Ganxy Showcase to display information about the book, the book’s trailer video, and, most importantly, links to the various stores where the book is available.

Not Your Mother’s Morals never lived a physical life. It was conceived electronically, gestated through the synergistic use of a number of software applications, and birthed to the world as an ebook to be downloaded and read on the screens — backlit or e-ink — of eReader devices and tablets. There is no doubt that, like Hemingway with his pencils or Kerouac and his scroll, the tools influenced the work. I always dreamt of being a published author, but even in my science fiction induced childhood dreams, I never imagined it would happen like this.

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the author of Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing Pop Culture for the Better and the editor of Patrolmag.com

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